Alcohol and cannabis have long been associated with parties, celebrations and good times. In fact, alcohol and cannabis are the two most popular recreational substances in Canada. So, it’s not surprising that with cannabis’s increasing availability in Canada, more and more people are combining the two. Some enjoy canna-cocktails while others sip on cannabis-infused wine or beer. And many others are simply consuming cannabis and drinking alcohol at the same time.
Still, those who combine these two powerful substances should proceed with caution. The combination of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), one of cannabis’s most common active ingredients, with alcohol has known chemical interactions that could cause problems for those consuming both simultaneously.
The Practice of Combining Cannabis With Alcohol Dates Back to Ancient Times
Cannabis with alcohol isn’t a new combination; mixing the two goes back thousands of years. This medley was first recorded as a type of general anesthesia for surgery in 400 BC. This should give you an idea of the kind of numbing, sedative effects you may experience when combining alcohol with THC. In large doses, it can leave those who’ve consumed the combination feeling lethargic, disoriented and heavy. These qualities may have been ideal for early surgeries, but they aren’t exactly a recipe for the perfect party today.
Still, for some, the combination doesn’t seem to be problematic. Many regularly enjoy consuming marijuana and alcohol together without any problems. In smaller doses, this combination seems to produce increased euphoria, and even aid with alcohol-induced nausea.
While many have figured out ways to combine these two substances effectively, it’s important to be aware of the risks, and only have them in tandem responsibly.
Beware: THC Can Increase Some of Alcohol’s Effects
Most of us know that drinking alcohol can have adverse effects. Drinking too much can immediately interfere with your brain’s communication pathways, and this can cause emotional and behavioural changes. Alcohol can
- slow reflexes
- make it harder to move with coordination
- make it difficult to think clearly
These effects increase your risk of getting into a car accident if you drive, and it means you’re generally unable to make quick, safe decisions if you’re in a dangerous situation. It can also lead to overdose and death when taken in large amounts.
While most are aware of these risk factors from drinking alcohol, what many don’t realize is that THC actually increases some of these effects. Cannabis by itself is relatively safe in that it’s not possible to fatally overdose from it.
But one of its main components, THC, can also cause disorientation. When combined with alcohol, the resulting experience can sometimes be overwhelmingly disorienting and even a little sickening.
Even those who use cannabis regularly are sometimes surprised to find themselves suddenly dizzy, confused, nauseous and disoriented after mixing alcohol and cannabis for the first time.
When driving, feeling suddenly disoriented can be especially dangerous. One study found that cannabis only moderately impaired driving, while the combination of cannabis and alcohol impaired it severely. So, abstaining from driving is always a good idea if you’ve been drinking and especially if you’ve consumed THC along with alcohol.
THC Levels Rise With Alcohol Consumption; CBD May Help Reverse This
Luckily, scientists have started to study this interaction to learn more about why we see these effects. They’ve discovered some very interesting results.
One study found that when subjects drank alcohol and smoked cannabis, THC levels rose higher than they did without any alcohol. This suggests that the alcohol actually increases the body's absorption of THC, which might help explain the intense effects we experience when they’re combined.
When someone consumes marijuana after drinking, the effects of the THC will be much stronger than it would it have otherwise been. Since the THC is absorbed in higher levels into the blood when combined with alcohol, even seasoned cannabis users may be surprised at how altered they feel from the amount they’ve consumed.
Interestingly, when scientists looked at the inverse relationship—how cannabis affects blood alcohol levels—they found that both THC and cannabidiol (CBD) actually reduce blood alcohol levels. When tested, those who smoked cannabis and drank alcohol had lower blood alcohol levels than those who drank the same amount of alcohol without the cannabis. With THC, this was correlated with a shorter duration of alcohol and cannabis-related effects. As for CBD, it didn’t seem to have any impact on the reported side effects.
CBD may actually be helpful for those consuming THC and alcohol together. While CBD lowers blood alcohol levels, it doesn’t seem to lessen alcohol’s effects. However, it does lessen the negative effects, such as disorientation, of THC. If you’re finding yourself overwhelmed after ingesting alcohol and THC, CBD may help calm things down by balancing out the THC.
Get to Know Your Body’s Limits if You Mix Alcohol With Cannabis
When it comes to combining alcohol and cannabis, self-awareness and responsibility are key. If you aren’t used to this powerful mix, it’s important to take things incredibly slow. Remember that alcohol increases your body’s ability to absorb THC, so you should need much less marijuana than you’d usually consume.
Start with very low doses of both cannabis and alcohol while you’re getting used to their combined effects. In fact, many opt to stick with a low dose of marijuana because they can enjoy the euphoria from the combination without falling victim to the sleepy, heavy, disorienting high that comes with large doses.
Many people enjoy this combination on a regular basis, and it can be done safely. But this only happens when people pay attention to their own body’s limits and tolerances. Whatever route you take with alcohol and cannabis, do it with self-awareness, patience and care.
Photo credit: Adam Jaime